AKK offers to quit Merkel’s CDU if party fails to back her

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the under-fire leader of Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union, said she would step down if she did not have the backing of the party, in a defiant conference speech on Friday.

AKK offers to quit Merkel's CDU if party fails to back her
AKK gesturing to the audience in Leipzig on Friday. Photo: DPA

“If you are of the opinion that the Germany I want is not the one you want… then we should end it. Here, now and today,” Kramp-Karrenbauer told delegates, responding to criticism of her leadership.

Widely known by her initials “AKK”, the 57-year-old has endured a rocky first year at the helm since taking over the party leadership from Chancellor Angela Merkel at last year's conference.

READ ALSO: Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer: The woman behind the 'mini-Merkel' headlines

With mutinous grumblings growing over her leadership style and criticisms of the coalition government, Kramp-Karrenbauer hit back.

“If you are of the opinion that the Germany I want is not the one you want… then we should end it. Here, now and today,” she told the party at the opening of their annual congress.

“To stand here as a party and say that everything we have done in the last 14 years was wrong is not a good election strategy,” she warned as the CDU held its annual conference.

The comments were a thinly-veiled barb at 64-year-old lawyer Friedrich Merz, who narrowly lost out to Kramp-Karrenbauer in last year's leadership vote.

Merz, a delegate at this weekend's conference, returned to the limelight in recent weeks when he described the CDU-led government as “abysmal” and accused Merkel of poor leadership.

But as AKK won a standing ovation lasting seven minutes, and with party heavyweights lining up to praise her, Merz dramatically backed down.

“We are loyal to our party chairs and our party leadership, and to the government that we have carried for 50 years, and those were good years for Germany,” he told the congress.

AKK in Leipzig on Friday. Photo: DPA

Stay united

While not wading directly into the war of words, Merkel urged the party to stay united, saying that it should “heed” the motto of the congress in past years — leading together and bringing together.

As Merkel nears the end of her fourth consecutive term, the CDU has been struggling to put down party infighting over her legacy and over the future shape of the party.

Pressure is also increasing on the centre-right party, as it has been struggling to halt a haemorrhage of voters to the Greens and to the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD).

AKK's own reputation has also suffered due to a string of PR gaffes.

In April, she was widely condemned for an ill-judged joke about transgender
bathrooms. A month later, she incurred the wrath of Youtubers with an attack
on freedom of speech online.

“I don't know many people who are convinced by her leadership style,” CDU regional politician Hans-Jörn Arp told DPA news agency on Wednesday.

'Too early'

Merz is now the most popular choice among the membership when it comes to
who will run to succeed Merkel as Chancellor at the next elections.

Traditionally a question that the CDU leadership decides behind closed doors with its Bavarian sister party CSU, there are now growing calls to involve the party base in the candidate selection process.

Ahead of the conference, six motions have been put forward on the introduction of a members' vote or internal primaries.

However an outright coup attempt against AKK by Merz's supporters remains unlikely according to Hans Vorländer, a political scientist at Dresden's Technical University.

“It is much too early for the CDU to make personnel decisions,” he told AFP, claiming that the party needed more time to prepare for life after Merkel, who is set to step down in 2021 after 16 years at the helm.

Huawei ban

Yet personnel problems are not the only thing unsettling Germany's ruling
party and its leader.

Kramp-Karrenbauer has also been accused of failing to give her party a clear political profile.

In a controversial letter published by German media last week, the CDU's state parliament leader in Baden-Württemberg, Wolfgang Reinhart, said the party was “insolvent” in terms of policy.

“The CDU has no antennae and no agenda for the big questions of our age,”
he wrote, condemning what he called the “radical pragmatism” of recent years.

Reinhart's comments reflected wider frustrations over the unpopular governing coalition between the CDU, the Bavarian CSU and the social-democratic SPD.

A recent compromise with the SPD over pension reform enraged conservative Christian Democrats.

Party delegates are expected to vent their frustrations this weekend with a
vote urging the government to exclude Chinese technology firm Huawei from the
construction of a new 5G mobile network in Germany.

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Sleep, seaside, potato soup: What will Merkel do next?

 After 16 years in charge of Europe's biggest economy, the first thing Angela Merkel wants to do when she retires from politics is take "a little nap". But what about after that?

Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel briefly closes her eyes and smiles at a 2018 press conference in Berlin.
Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel briefly closes her eyes at a 2018 press conference in Berlin. Aside from plans to take "a little nap" after retiring this week, she hasn't given much away about what she might do next. Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP

The veteran chancellor has been tight-lipped about what she will do after handing over the reins to her successor Olaf Scholz on December 8th.

During her four terms in office, 67-year-old Merkel was often described as the most powerful woman in the world — but she hinted recently that she will not miss being in charge.

“I will understand very quickly that all this is now someone else’s responsibility. And I think I’m going to like that situation a lot,” she said during a trip to Washington this summer.

Famous for her stamina and her ability to remain fresh after all-night meetings, Merkel once said she can store sleep like a camel stores water.

But when asked about her retirement in Washington, she replied: “Maybe I’ll try to read something, then my eyes will start to close because I’m tired, so I’ll take a little nap, and then we’ll see where I show up.”

READ ALSO: ‘Eternal’ chancellor: Germany’s Merkel to hand over power
READ ALSO: The Merkel-Raute: How a hand gesture became a brand

‘See what happens’
First elected as an MP in 1990, just after German reunification, Merkel recently suggested she had never had time to stop and reflect on what else she might like to do.

“I have never had a normal working day and… I have naturally stopped asking myself what interests me most outside politics,” she told an audience during a joint interview with Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

“As I have reached the age of 67, I don’t have an infinite amount of time left. This means that I want to think carefully about what I want to do in the next phase of my life,” she said.

“Do I want to write, do I want to speak, do I want to go hiking, do I want to stay at home, do I want to see the world? I’ve decided to just do nothing to begin with and see what happens.”

Merkel’s predecessors have not stayed quiet for long. Helmut Schmidt, who left the chancellery in 1982, became co-editor of the weekly newspaper Die Zeit and a popular commentator on political life.

Helmut Kohl set up his own consultancy firm and Gerhard Schroeder became a lobbyist, taking a controversial position as chairman of the board of the Russian oil giant Rosneft.

German writer David Safier has imagined a more eccentric future for Merkel, penning a crime novel called Miss Merkel: Mord in der Uckermark  that sees her tempted out of retirement to investigate a mysterious murder.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel forms her trademark hand gesture, the so-called “Merkel-Raute” (known in English as the Merkel rhombus, Merkel diamond or Triangle of Power). (Photo by Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP)

Planting vegetables
Merkel may wish to spend more time with her husband Joachim Sauer in Hohenwalde, near Templin in the former East Germany where she grew up, and where she has a holiday home that she retreats to when she’s weary.

Among the leisure activities she may undertake there is vegetable, and especially, potato planting, something that she once told Bunte magazine in an interview in 2013 that she enjoyed doing.

She is also known to be a fan of the volcanic island of D’Ischia, especially the remote seaside village of Sant’Angelo.

Merkel was captured on a smartphone video this week browsing the footwear in a Berlin sportswear store, leading to speculation that she may be planning something active.

Or the former scientist could embark on a speaking tour of the countless universities from Seoul to Tel Aviv that have awarded her honorary doctorates.

Merkel is set to receive a monthly pension of around 15,000 euros ($16,900) in her retirement, according to a calculation by the German Taxpayers’ Association.

But she has never been one for lavish spending, living in a fourth-floor apartment in Berlin and often doing her own grocery shopping.

In 2014, she even took Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to her favourite supermarket in Berlin after a bilateral meeting.

So perhaps she will simply spend some quiet nights in sipping her beloved white wine and whipping up the dish she once declared as her favourite, a “really good potato soup”.